Riser is Dierks Bentley's first album since the death of his father and the birth of his first son, and it shows in some of the songs.
Here on Earth finds Bentley wrestling with his beliefs while suffering loss and seeking answers. Current single, I Hold On, is a powerful, propulsive track that derives musical strength from the bottom end and emotional power in the familiar, whether it's old pickup trucks, battered guitars or family, faith, memories and love.
As expected, there are also plenty of fun, mid-tempo songs about Pretty Girls Drinkin' Tall Boys, searching to locate enough Bourbon in Kentucky to wipe out a memory or getting Drunk on a Plane because your fiancée dumped you and you've already paid for the honeymoon.
Eleven-time Grammy nominee Bentley co-wrote half of the dozen tracks here with an amazing support group in the likes of fellow singer-songwriters Chris Stapleton, Charlie Worsham and Kacey Musgraves.
After seven solid albums, Bentley's career is still on the rise, and unlike many of his counterparts, he's done it without auto-tune or resorting to hick-hop. 3 1/2
Download this: I Hold On
-- Bruce Leperre
Morning Phase (Capitol/Universal)
The last time Beck sounded like this, it was 2002 and he was reeling from a breakup and his listeners were reeling from the aftermath of 9/11.
Sea Change was the gorgeously distraught sound of struggling to get out of bed after trauma. His new album Morning Phase is the similarly lush, but far more determined, sound of being able to face the day again.
Beck enlisted the same band from Sea Change for Morning Phase and together they re-create a dream world of string sections, hushed guitars and woozy beauty. "Waking light, it grew from the shadow," he sings in the finale Waking Light, with an echoing effect on his voice so strong it almost sounds angelic. "Night is gone, long way turning, you've waited long enough to know."
The first single Blue Moon sounds confident, as drummer Joey Waronker builds a drum-driven groove, though Beck still seems a bit uneasy, begging, "Don't leave me on my own," while surrounding the request with what sounds like a choir of Brian Wilsons offering supportive "oohs" and "ahs."
Morning Phase does offer more than Sea Change. After all, Beck hasn't stood still in his songwriting and, more importantly, his arranging and producing. There's a bit of Radiohead's influence in the epic Wave, especially as Beck uses his falsetto. There's a Bon Iver feel to the pretty Turn Away, but perhaps the biggest accomplishment in Morning Phase is the way it captures the feeling of hope. 4/5
Download this: Waking Light
-- Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
THIS WEEK'S SINGLES
The Funeral (Caroline/Universal)
After parting ways with longtime label Interscope earlier this month, 50 Cent doesn't waste any time getting a new single out from his upcoming Animal Ambition album, due out this summer. The Funeral is a fairly solemn tale of street violence, with a subdued beat and a hushed horn line. There's nothing particularly wrong with it, but as the first track to mark his supposed bold new direction, it's pretty ho hum. 3/5
Lookin' Ass N***a (Young Money/Cash Money/Republic)
Nicki drops the pop and returns to her hardcore-rap roots on this man-hating, menacingly minimal first single from her forthcoming album The Pink Print. It's dark, confrontational, and the sheer number of N-bombs crammed into barely three minutes may very well set some sort of record. 2 1/2
Yolanda Be Cool feat. SYF & Fritz Helder
All That She Wants (Dim Mak)
The Australian duo best known for their novelty 2010 hit We No Speak Americano is back with a brooding, alternative electro take on the '90s Ace of Base track of the same name. With plenty of slinky synths, a grimy bassline and hypnotic male vocals, it's almost unrecognizable from the original and a straight-up cool cover. 4/5
-- Steve Adams